Modern Slavery or a Chance!

Most of us heard about terms like globalisation and child labour. But just a few of us might have seen it in real life and even less really recognise it. I have seen either in different places. Many times it made me think ‘Is it wright or wrong?’. What’s slavery and what’s a fair chance? What about the influence of culture and tourism?

Almost ten years ago I left Europe for the first time. Traveling to South America to my uncles place was not just a big adventure but also a cultural experience. For one month I was living on a property owned by a swiss but mostly run by locals. Locals coming from a lower class and working for middle/upper class people. The guys are doing hard field work and the girls take care on the kids, cook and clean. Most of them are living on the owners property in some simple housing and earn the minimum wage. Quite often not even registered so they won’t get the social insurances. Every forth night they might go home to see their parents, own children and friends. Otherwise they are supposed to stay at place and work for little money which is just enough to survive. Is this modern slavery or just a chance for the social weak ones to work?

Few years later in 2009 I traveled central/south America mostly by public transportation. Soon after my arrival in Guatemala I recognised all the children selling food on the buses and streets. In places with tourists they might also have sold some souvenirs to mostly western tourists. At some point my travel mate asked one of the 7-10 year old kid ‘Do you go to school?’. The answer was ‘Yes, in the evening. During day we have to work.’! In extrem cases those little cute children were even asking to get the chicken bones you had left on your plate in a restaurant! Like a dog! Begging and working for survival! Similar picture in many other countries I visited the following months in Central/South America. Would kids sell things if the tourists wouldn’t be there and who would feed them?

In 2012 I headed out again and it took me a while to see it again. Almost two years after my departure I arrived in Asia. Mongolia was the first place where I could recognise how kids where helping out their families with hard physical work. Such as sawing firewood, looking after the animals or producing cheese/yoghurt. In some families the dad was relaxing while the girls did the work!
Later on, in Myanmar I recognised teenagers which were working in tea plantation or even on construction grounds for new streets. Carrying gravel in wok pans to the spot they need it and that under the midday sun. Was it their choice or does something/someone make them to do it?

Back in Thailand I talked a bit to locals working in Hostels and Hotels. In the Hotel in Patong was a receptionist which is mum of a daughter. A daughter she didn’t see for 2 years. Originally from the north on the border to Laos where her kid lives with her mum. To earn money and send it back home she moved to the south. But the money for her might not be as big as the one her foreign boss might make with the business. She can’t effort to travel home to see her family!
In the hostel in Bangkok was a married couple working. Both originally from Myanmar but moved to Thailand for work when they were 14 and 19, respectively. He started to work in a fish factory and sent all the money home. At some point they changed to hospitality, became parents and brought the kid back to Myanmar. And since then … they never returned home again and keep sending the money back for their families. Slaves of tourism or just workers looking for a better life?

Before I headed home I spent another 2 months in Ukraine. Since my last visits in Spring’14 and Winter’13 things changed. The economics weren’t untouched by the conflict in the east. From winter’13 till spring’14 the countries currency – Hryvna – lost half of its value to the $. And till now -spring’15- it lost again and its worth a third compared to winter’13. Clinical research is a common business in Ukraine and many offices are owned by foreign companies making business in $. The locals working as clinical research associates and other jobs get mostly paid in Hryvna. But never since they have got an increase of salary! And business with the west keeps rolling while life becomes more expensive. Who keeps the lucky exchange bonus? Is this slavery in the name of the west or shall we call it outsourcing and globalisation?

What can we change or how can we influence it. Do we have a chance? What about the power of governments and multinational enterprises? Think about the cases and have a closer look next time, listen to them and make your thoughts. There might be a story behind the little boy on the corner begging for your attention.

Coming back – southern Thailand

Coming back to Thailand was a weird thing. Is like going from Thailand back home to Switzerland. Almost everything improved at once. Getting super markets back, reliable public transportation and getting hostels back. Yap, in Myanmar they have guesthouses but hardly no hostels.

Ready for a couple of days relaxing on the beach I headed down to the popular island called Phi Phi. Not sure since how long this place is so popular but latest since the movie ‘The beach’ almost 15 years ago. The most you can do here is to relax and to a few short hikes over the main island. To be a bit more active and to do some useful I signed myself up for a PADI open water course. Did that the next three days together with my swiss dive instructor. And during the curse I once more realised what the big difference is between Asia and Europe.
Here they use things till they break with minimal or no investment into repairing it. Back home we keep them in good shape. On our first dive we had to go with another schools boat since ours was under repair. Just before we wanted to go to water the engine stopped working. Took them several hours and tries to get it on again. Later on, my instructor told me that there were 3 dive schools on the same boat cos 2 of 3 boats were broken. The day after we went on another dive schools boat, ours was still not available.

Not enough party? Lets go to the Ibiza of South East Asia – Patong. This beach place its not exactly what I was looking for but kind of interesting to see. Especially by night when all the dressed up lady boys were on the main walkway. They don’t like to be on pictures 😉
Beside that, you get offered dozens of ‘Ping Pong’ shows or Russian strip shows. Not sure if that was for the huge number of Russians or more for the older guys hanging out here. In general a very touristy place which you will easily recognise in the prices. A taxi ride for 5km will coast about 400 THB. In Bangkok same distance would be about 65 THB!

The last few nights before my flight back to Europe I spent back in Bangkok. A totally different district than the first time. More likely the modern business district with all the big buildings and fancy malls. In the hostel I started to talk to one of the workers. A guy from Myanmar working in Thailand since 16 years or better since he is 13years old! He moved here together with his at that time girlfriend and now wife and living since then together.
He never finished school but instead started to work in a fish factory at the time he got to Thailand. And that all to send money back home. Six years ago they became parents but they haven’t seen their kid since over 3 years. At some point they handed the baby over to her parents in Myanmar. Now they both work in the same Hostel and send every month money back home in the hope their kid will have a better future. And both never returned to Myanmar since they left it sixteen years ago!!!

A similar story the receptionist in Patong told me. Coming from the north of Thailand, having a kid with a dad she doesn’t know where he is and a kid staying at her mum’s place she didn’t visit the last two years. And that just because she doesn’t have the money to travel there but working in a place which makes a town which is highly reliable! Fucked up world!

The hidden land – Myanmar

A couple of months back a friend asked me if I want to join for a trip through Myanmar. Having a quick look into it I decided to put it on my radar and to join him. Myanmar is relatively undiscovered by tourists since it was hard to travel till the recent years. Being a corrupt and unstable place still suffering from civil wars in some regions.
But since a while the country is opening up and improving the infrastructure such as getting ATM’s -which didn’t exist 3 years ago, more stable power grids -which still interrupt few times a day- and internet -which works once in a while but slowly. It also became more stable and opened certain regions for tourism which a few years back required special permissions.
Nevertheless, I had to change my plans to enter the country by bus due to a border incident. Instead I booked a flight and got safely to Yangon the former capital. I knew that traveling this country its more of an adventure than traveling other places in south east asia. But I didn’t expect not to get any money from any ATM at the airport. Yap, my bank card didn’t work anywhere during the whole trip in Myanmar. I should have followed the advice to bring some USD’s with me. Somehow I managed to get some cash and made my way to the center and with some help of locals even to the pre-booked guesthouse.
Later that night we went for some dinner and had to recognise how friendly people are. If you asked them for help they didn’t bother it also happened that random people just asked if they could help. In general it felt like they are very excited that foreigners come to their place. More and more we recognised the standard in services in this country. The strangest thing might be how they call a waiter to make an order or to get the bill. Just make a kissing sound and they will instantly turn around and face you. Some people even do it to get fire for the cigaret, seriously.

First day in Myanmar and first adventure. Taking the so called circular train going around the center and some outer skirts of the city. One turn takes about 3 hours even if its just a ~50km trip. Its a bumpy, shaky as well as hot trip in an old British carriage from former colonial times. And the infrastructure seems to be from the same time with barely any maintenance done the last few decades.

The center is full with some nice colonial style building but also dominated by simple apartment houses from old times. Doesn’t really look inviting but has some character. If the train once gets into the outskirts the housing changes to simple huts in the middle of fields and simple houses along the track.
The trip only costs 200KIB or 0.20USD but shows you the other site of this economical capital.

Back in the center I made my way to one of the biggest Pagodas – the Shwedagon Pagoda. A huge golden temple near the center. The big pagoda is surrounded by countless smaller ones. The walk ways between them are almost spotless. Not really surprising after you saw the cleaning people. About 30 to 50 person are walking in lines withe brooms and mops keeping the place clean.

Our next destination was the one night bus away city of ancient Bagan. A mystical place with its thousands of temples and what is left is just a fraction of the original size. A huge complex of pagodas and smaller constructions scattered all over the place.
Even though this place is a major attraction and to some part protected the space between the temple is used for agriculture. And that in an old fashioned way.

Bagan is one of the main destinations in Myanmar for foreigners. Most of them will be attracted to the ancient city and come here at some point in their journey. And so do the souvenir sellers. After we got shown some viewpoint to take pictures from the girls wanted us to have a look at their shops. Not really wanted to buy something but feeling bad to refuse her I left with a handful of souvenirs. Finally, everyone was happy.
Another thing which I will remember from Bagan are the delicious Tamarin Flakes. A candy made from the fruit of the tamarin tree, super sweet but also super delicious. Unfortunately you only get them there 🙁

From Bagan we headed east to Hsipaw in the mountains. Everywhere where you have tourists you might find some scams and so did we on that day. Changing bus at Pyyin Oo Lwin we were told we have to go to another bus station. Arriving at the place which was like a taxi stand they told us no more bus but we could take a private car for 30$. Not sure about what to do we ended finally up with the deal.
The drive through the mountains was fairly quick and on the way we got to see a lot of the landscape. As well as several accidents where as buses and trucks were most likely the ones which suffered. a truck on its side in the rocky wall, a bus on its side as well and a motorcycle driver which just got back up on his legs. Poor guy.
Hsipaw is a small town in the mountains on the rail track to Lashio. A perfect place to head out to the villages of the Shan people. The next two days we hiked up into one of the villages and back down. Spending one night at one of the bamboo huts in the village. Getting into touch with some locals, with the kids at the school and get to know how it is to live in the hills. Most people here work in the surrounding tea plantations. The product is a black tea which looks like coffee and somehow taste a bit like coffee.
One thing which made me feel bad in this country and especially in these places were the extremely bad teeth of so many people here. An effect of chewing the betel nut which destroys the teeth as well as the gums.

On the way back to Hsipaw we crossed this street service team fixing some bad ass potholes in the street. All done in perhaps the technique and with the material they once learned/got from the British.

After another couple of nights relaxing in Hsipaw I took a train back to Pyin Oo Lwin. Another adventure for itself. At the station I met a familiar face I first met a couple of months ago in Mongolia. Together we got our tickets in a quite unusual train office. Everything is still done on paper like in all the guesthouses as well.

The train ride itself is spectacular for the crossing of the infamous Goteik viaduct built during the colonial time and it’s already over 100 years old. Getting there takes quite a bit of time since the train goes very slowly on its choppy track. The carriages are torquing, jumping and shaking in all thinkable ways. A wonder that the train still goes and also not surprising that it is considered to be unsafe to take!

Next adventure was waiting for me on the next morning. After one night in Pyin Oo Lwin I was heading for Inle Lake one day trip away. First mean of transportation was a pickup to Mandalay. On the way there I once more recognised all the places which change tires and cool the disks of the trucks and buses brakes! Not much profile left on that rubber … and just shortly after we saw one more truck lying on its site almost rolling down the slope.

Since I didn’t want to take a night bus I ended up in doing my transfer from Mandalay to Inle Lake on my own. First I got a bus to Meiktila where I got dropped off. Some locals then pointed me the way to the office selling mini bus tickets to the place. Not really happy about the place I finally had to agree since there it was the only option I had. At least the drive was much faster than expected and just ‘after’ sunset I got dropped once more. But still a 10km march away or a short ride on a vehicle. After I started to walk just to escape the moto drivers which were once more quite annoying i approached a street check point. The person in charge must have been sorry for the poor guy walking and waved down a pickup which agreed to give me a lift. A free lift was not enough but he also went straight through the checkpoint at the villages entrance where tourists have to pay a entrance fee for the region which saved me 10$!
At the end he dropped me at his family’s restaurant which became my lunch place for the time i spent in Inle Lake. Thats once more about the hospitality in this country.
Iile Lake is well known because of its gorgeous lake and the culture around it. One of the spectacular things to see are the fishermen which manoeuvre their with their leg while using the hands for the fishing net.

There is also some agriculture on the lake. The floating gardens are literarily floating. The people here grow tomatoes for the whole country. Huge gardens which you can enter by boat. Second time I saw something like this after lake titicaca in Bolivia.

After all the impressions of this amazing place I headed back to the south. Next destination Mawlamyine, just a night bus to Yangon and another six hours from there to the south. The first place which felt like not to be a main destination for the tourists. A quite worn out city on the shore of the river. Stretching around a hill and along the water site.
Its the capital of the Mon state and the fourth biggest in the country. From here you can head out on a day trip to the nearby island which is civilised by mon people. A place you will see many ancient things. This ox trailer is not very uncommon though out the whole country.

Never thought about how rubber bands are produced but for me was sure they come out of a machine. Not here … they are handmade made from natural rubber. Dried in a smoking chamber, sliced by an old machine and sorted out by hand.

Another example was an ancient rice cleaner which shall be in operation for over once century. The shaking tower is powered by this steam engine which is regularly maintained. I don’t wanna know whats the ratio of operating hours to maintain hours!

Back in the center many old colonial buildings can be found. Most of them are in miserable conditions. No renovation and that perhaps since the english left many decades back.

Next on the list was Dawei even further in the south. Final destination would be a border crossing back to Thailand in the far south. The street to Dawei was almost not existing so bad were the condition and that without rain. Sitting in the overnight bus and watching how the headlights of crossing vehicles approached was kind of fascinating. Especially the manoeuvre they did to cross on the narrow jungle street. Although, sometimes there is not enough space and so we saw one more wrecked bus on the side of the street.
To get some rest I spent a night in a beautiful place near Dawei. A laid back guesthouse surrounded by coconut trees. Here I learned what they to with the dried coconuts. They press the oil out of the flesh wich later on is processed to cosmetic products.

My last mean of transportation was a 10hour speed ferry to the border town in the far south. A trip which was not without especially since you have to check in to the office at 1am. Being transferred to a harbour somewhere and leaving that one at 4am in a boat which after half of the trip was packed with people.
While floating to the end of this amazing part of my trip I was thinking about all the nice impression of this country. All the extraordinary friendly people, the unbelievable beauty of the nature here and the ancient infrastructure of this country.

Northern Thailand

Coming back from Laos we had to spent the first night in the border town of Chiong King. Giving us the chance to see a small city without all the tourists. Although, soon we had to figure out that this place can be quit calm. The only place we found to get a drink and perhaps something to eat was closing down just in the moment we arrived but opened again later on just for us!

The day after we moved to Chiang Mai with the plan in mind to see the Yi Peng festival – a buddhist festival during the full moon time in November. Unfortunately we missed hundreds of thousands of lanterns going up into the night sky! It was already to late to go to the place by the time we came back from dinner. Thats the price you pay if you don’t plan. Instead we headed out for the nearby night market which was packed with people. Getting some cheap snacks and to do some windows shopping.

Chiang Mai has many temples around the centre as well as in the surrounding. One has a bamboo wat and another temple is built in tunnels well hidden in the nearby forest.

To escape the intense heat and humidity in the centre I went to a jungle trek. Unfortunately just for one day but enough to see at least some of the jungle around the city. First stop was at an orchis nursery and butterfly center. Getting taught how much it takes to create some of those flowers. Would you have guessed it could take several years till you get to see the beauty of it?

Later on I jumped on an elephant like the guys in the picture. Perhaps the most touristy thing I’ve done the last two years. Somehow I expected the ride a bit more adventures but it was a slow and shaky ride. Even though, our elephant over took all the other ones 😀 Good fun was the command ‘bon banana’ which means ‘give me your trunk and you’ll get a banana’. The only command he was really listening to as you can see.
The rest of the trip contained a short hike into the jungle. On the way there we were discovering interesting plants and butterflies. One of the plants –Mimosa– collapsed it leaves as soon as you touched it – awesome. Finally we took a raft and went down the river. The ending with the bamboo raft was a failure since we were too heavy …

After four nights in Chiang Mai I was looking forward to something out of a city and decided to go to Pai. A place four hours north. The place consists of two a few roads and numerous guest houses. Nevertheless, it is a really small and laid back place just a bit over ran by foreigners.

Since the place was quite small it only took a few minutes to get out of it and into the green. Waterfalls, a canyon or rice fields are just a few things which make this place so relaxing. Even though most people discover it by scooter it is easily possible to hike to the suggested spots. If you don’t mind the sun. Shame on me that I spent four nights in Chiang Mai instead of one more in this beautiful place!

Unfortunately, I already had my flight for the first of November to Yangon – Myanmar. A new adventure is waiting out there 🙂

Traveling the Jungle – Laos

I headed out for the northern bus station of Vientiane to catch a bus to Luang Prabang. A place 9 hours in the north of the capital. As soon as the bus left the city I had to realise that this country might have a lot of bush land. During the whole journey we could enjoy all the fabulous green environment which once in a while got interrupted by a small town or settlement.

Luang Prabang itself is surrounded by jungle, green hills and the river Mekong. The place is well known for its monks and the numerous monasteries around the town.

A new kind of temple and also my new favourite. This time a ‘Temple surrounded by palms in the jungle’.

The centre of the town is dominated by a big hill with a temple on the top. On the way back down I found a couple of Buddhas and for the first time I realised that they have one for every week day. Not sure why the Saturday Buddha looks kind of creepy and the Tuesday Buddha seems to be tiered for some reason. I guess the weekend was too long 😀

Hidden in the jungle near Luang Prabang are some beautiful waterfalls. The perfect place to escape from the heat and humidity in the town. There is one big drop and later on couple of cascaded basins which are perfect for a bath. The water on top of the waterfall is crystal clear and becomes turkish coloured on the bottom of it. The free fish massage was awesome. It just became a bit scary after a big fish started to feed itself. I decided to stay safe and to keep my toes and left the bath after the attack.

Another reason than the monks and temples that this place is popular are the slow boat trips down or up the MeKong. Most of the tourists coming from Thailand by boat and keep traveling Laos later on. A few go the opposite way against the mass – up streams. And so did I – as usually.

The trip takes two days with a night in a small place in the middle of the jungle. During those two days you will see a lot of green. Seriously, its all green except the water and the sky. And the few moments when the jungle is opening up to give you a view on a hill tribe settlement. We could see kids playing on the water site, women washing the laundry or guys fishing in their boats. Normal life for those living here.

For those who are in a hurry or who don’t want to spent 2 days in their life on a slow boat, there are also some speedboats and they go fast … So fast that a helmet is required and that you might feel your bones for a couple of days afterwards;)
However, everybody is ending or starting at the border to Thailand. Our drop off was just next to the ‘former’ immigration office. Unfortunately not opened anymore to foreigners. For us was the brand new ‘friendship’ bridge a couple of kilometres away.

Somehow it is a shame I left this country after just five nights but there might be the opportunity to see more of it when I’ll be back in Thailand. Getting into it in the south to see the islands there. Lucky me that I do not need a visa 😉

On the way to Laos

As much as I enjoyed my time in Bangkok I didn’t really want to spent too much time there and left it after a few nights. To get a train ticket was super easy. No queue at all and the girl working at the counter was speaking english as well. Out of curiosity I ordered a first class ticket to Khon Kaen. Trip duration nine hours, cost of it about 40$.

I got my own compartment or at least I was thinking the second bed might not be sold. At 8pm I was ready at the station and shortly after I inspected my tiny room. A bit old fashioned and not rally much space for baggage but there was a sink and huge beds. Seriously, the beds are small double beds. You could easily share it! Later on a english-thai couple were demonstrating that. Yap, they took over the spare bed after their roomies didn’t want that a couple is sharing a room. Somehow I can understand if you think that he was a mid aged european guy and she a mit twenty thai! girl!

My arrival was early in the morning around 5am. A station with straight tracks running through it. While I was looking for a place to stay some locals started to ask me to help me out. The first person couldn’t help me but he called around a friend which further on called a family member able to speak english. It was just after 6am. No, I didn’t get refused but she couldn’t help me neither. So she went back in and after a few minutes another girl came out. And that one just got woken up to help me! I couldn’t believe it!

The only reason I came here was to see something else than the majority goes for in Thailand and to slow down the journey to Laos. Roi Et is a small town near Khon Kaen not very well known among tourists. But it shall have the tallest standing Buddha in the world. At this place I recognised the first time buddhist nuns. Instead of the orange fabric they got white ones.
Back in Khon Kaen I had a walk around the night market and finally ended up in an expat bar. On the way home I had a look into one of the most popular places which was kind of a club with life music. The impression: Very loud music, watery drinks and crazy people:)

The morning after I had to hurry to get my train to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. 35Bahts or 1$ for a three hour third class ride on a local train. Well, it was not the nicest ever but didn’t change the fact that the views were amazing. The rail way is terminated on the Thailand site. Therefore you have to go to the border by yourself. The tuktuk bringing me there overcharged my quite a bit. However, I could save the money at the Laos border since Swiss citizens are together with Luxembourg citizens the only ones from Europe getting a visa free entry into the country. Strike:D
Everybody else pays at least 40$ to the custom. Furthermore, I didn’t have to queue for immigration. Instead I walked straight through, bargained the price for the next tuktuk and tried to get it cheap this time.

Vientiane is a laid back town which doesn’t really gives you the impression of a capital. Life is slow and people friendly and relaxed and so are the few tourists staying there. Even if the number of people living here is small it feels like the density of temples is much higher. Meanwhile I saw quite a few of them but somehow there were two I really liked here. Pha That Luang is one of the most important of the country and with its wall around it also kind of different to others I saw.

Another site had countless little niches in the walls of the temple and side buildings and all of them kept at least one tiny buddha. And for sure there were also bigger ones around it.

Another new thing to the temple was the markets around it. First time I saw they were selling tiny birds int little catches. At the beginning I was thinking they eat them. Lucky them, they just release them into the wild which shall bring luck as I got explained.

One of the biggest landmarks in the city is the Patuxai Gate. Built to honour all those who were firing for independence against the french. Looks a bit like the Arc de Triumph in Paris but has its own style on the top.

Vientiane doesn’t really offer much. Although, its worth to stay for a few nights to relax and to enjoy the laid back street life of the city. There are a certain amount of tourists but not as much as on the other site of the border. And a big part of the internationals are just here to extend their Thailand visas. And the others will most likely go to the north like I did.

Don’t worry be happy – Bangkok

China was a great experience about the culture as well as the Nature. Nevertheless, I can’t lie that I was happy to leave it for another place. And I guess Bangkok – Thailand was a great choice to continue the travels. Arriving in this city felt like discovering a new planet. People are so friendly and easy going somehow the opposite of Chinese. And it seemed like that everybody could talk a little english. So much easier to travel since I don’t speak any Thai.
First mission was to get the Myanmar visa around the corner of the ‘Miles Map’ hostel. The application process is quite straight forward and easy to get through. Besides that you have to spent some time in the application queue and later on in the pick up line. I got my passport in the afternoon back with the required old-fashioned passport stamp in it. Mission accomplished:)

The image I had in my mind of Bangkok was the one from the movie ‘Hangover’. A huge loud and very busy city with ladyboys all around. It was not exactly like that. Bangkok its much better and actually not even that busy. At least not on week days.

Bangkok is famous for its nightlife as well as for the cultural heritage situated in the city. The best way to explore parts of the city is by taxi boat on the canals. From this perspective some of the most famous temples can be spotted. Its also quite interesting to see all the activities along the water. Houses with basketball fields on the roof, a guy diving with an old fashioned diving helmet or just the regular fishermen taking its nets back.

I didn’t really do any research about the city and therefore I was quite surprised to find all those big temples in the middle of the centre. The most famous one might be the ‘Grand palace’ which is a fairly big complex of temples, side buildings and gardens. Protected by some ancient statues …

… and awesome looking real guards. In old fashioned British uniforms with the funny hat on. Just looks so amazing:)

Bangkok is definitely worth seeing it and especially if you come from China. Feels so good to see smiling people, to taste different street food or just to feel free and not watched by a crowd. Looking forward to see more of Thailand and south east Asia the coming weeks. Next will be Laos with a stop over on the way 🙂

Living in a Skyscraper – Hong Kong

Somehow I felt like Hong Kong is a must see place if you travel China. Arriving by plane I had the spectacular pictures of approaching the airport in my mind. But at the same time I knew that we will land at the new airport built on an artificial island and not flying to the former one which is in the middle of the city. Once rated as one of the most difficult airports to land at.
Since at the time protests were going on in Hong Kong the public transportation was a bit limited. Not knowing that I was waiting for 20min for a bus just to get told that it won’t stop at the place I needed to go. The solution was the 3 times more expensive MTR train. However, I got fast and save to Hong Kong Island. One thing I realised on the way: The Chinese did much better in designing a metro station than the brits!

Ant another thing you will realise getting on the streets of Hong Kong is the high rising building all around. I think I never saw a normal house around the island. And yes, people live in there and not just work. My hostel was based on the 13th floor and my room was called deluxe. The space we got was ~11sqm for eight of us. Bunks with three levels were standard, sleeping in a shelf in a cramped place!

Although, if you were willed to walk up to the victoria peak you could first of all enjoy a nice walk through the city and secondly escape it. And finally you got a great view down. Around the peak I found some leftovers of old british fortification. According the signs built before the war and destroyed during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong.

Back down in the centre I passed the main area where the demonstration takes part. It was much bigger the days before our arrival and became much bigger afterwards. No more to see at least at that time.

Staying in Hong Kong made me realise how much more lifestyle costs in the west. Compared to China which I think is not cheap at all is Hong Kong super expensive. For a night you paid at least 30$, a burger menu in a restaurant its around 15$ and so on. But thats the price to be back in the west I guess.
Unfortunately I missed the most famous thing – the light show in the evening. There was no second time as we were believing. Too late for that night and the day after I left it … Thailand next.

Another China – Shanghai

After over a month in this country I was kind of over it. Too different cultures and not always easy to be tolerant to the ignorant Chinese! But before I left China I wanted to see Shanghai. The perhaps most western like city in China beside Hong Kong.

Since it was still Chinese National Holiday Shanghai was packed with tourists. Especially throughout the pedestrian area which goes to the infamous ‘the buns’.A area along the river with the some historical building. It also faces the banking district of Shanghai with its skyscrapers. A must see area in Shanghai and that how it felt during holiday. Especially in the evening all the people showed up to see the lighting of the high rise buildings. And it was also the evening where as the police started to route the people through the streets. From subway to the bund on one street and back on the parallel street. No contraflow. When the pedestrians crossed the street the police kept them inside of a human tunnel or where putting up ribbons.

Perhaps the most famous at the moment is the Pearl Tower on the left. The most famous in the future might be the Shanghai Tower on the right which will be finished up till 2015. An over 600m Skyscraper which gets narrower to the top and torques around its on centre. And somewhere between you can find the ‘bottle opener’. At least it looks like a xxl opener. If you get the chance get into that one, get up to the 91 floor to the bar and enjoy the few.

During night time The Bund looks amazing with all the skyscrapers. Some of them are simple lid up others like the Pearl tower is flashing and chaining colours.

When the holiday finished Shanghai calmed down and it was possible to walk freely and quick from A to B. I got a totally different experience than the days before. And at once you could realise that people living here are more western. Less people spiting on the street, making weird noises or kids shitting on the sidewalks.
Initially i was planing to take the train down to Hong Kong. But since it would have taken so long I booked a flight there. First flight after all the trains from Europe to and through China. And another reason was to take the Maglev train to the international airport in Shanghai. Never traveled so fast on the ground before. Approaching the exit point with 431 km/h. I have to admit that the regular trains feel more comfortable at speeds exceeding 300 km/h. At top speed it became a little bit shaky but it was an awesome ride 🙂

Na´vi’s home – Zhangjiajie

After the days on the boat with all the Chinese cruise passengers I was looking forward to some nature around the Zhangjiajie national forest park. The place where the mountains come from int the movie Avatar. Unfortunately I already knew that the place its gonna be busy since China went into its golden week. A recently designed holiday for the Chinese nation. And Zhangjiajie national park its one of the most famous one in the country. I was lucky enough to get booked my first night in the place. For a further one the hostel didn’t have capacity left. However, at my arrival I could extend my booking by one night giving me two days in the place.
Zhangjiajie city is a mid sized place quite busy with tourists coming for the national parks around it. One is the mentioned Zhangjiajie forest and another one in the reach of the city is the Tianmen Mountain. Second one can be reached with a cable car leaving from the city center.

The forest park is a bus ride away form the city and brings you up into the surrounding mountains in the north. Into a place which makes you feel like you are in the movie Avatar if there wouldn’t be all those Chinese. The first line was at the cable car inside of the park. It took me 90minutes waiting in the line till I got up the amazing mountain. And on top i had to figure out that from somewhere the free buses were running up there.

Its beautiful nature around there just a pity that the park is visited by so many people and it is not really designed for trekking but more for those typical Chinese hop on/off busing systems. Lazy nation!
And it also feels like its designed that you leave your money. All the transportation beside the buses cost extra and its hard to get to the upper part with those extra transportation. At least you get a ride in the so claimed world’s tallest outdoor elevator.
For only 72 RMB which is about 12$. The cable car in the morning was only 68 RMB and the entrance 250 RMB including a insurance for whatever. Pretty much normal prices for Chinese national parks.

I skipt the Tianmen mountain since I didn’t want the same mess again. I really wanted to go up there but I dropped it and took a day off instead. Originally I wanted to be in this region by mid-end September since there should have been an event happening. Later on I figured out it was not September but October. Fucked it up …

One funny thing happened anyway. The hostel was on the roof top of a building. The elevator brought you there straight away. The button for this floor wasn’t clearly visible so it happened that I once pressed the key for a floor lower. Which to my surprise looked totally different. I was not even able to leave the elevator since a guy blocked it and asked me where I want to go. It was a big room and all the walls were kept in red as well as the floor and ceiling. In the background where a couple of bouncers and somewhere between a receptionist! Or shall I say a hostess? Yap, the hostel staff told me that this is a brothel …
Once more I got the second last ticket for a train. And even luckier, I also got the bottom bed. no climbing and plenty of space for my baggage as well as a save seat during day time. And when I got on the train I couldn’t believe that there was a english specking couple on the same car.